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New Tides' lease calls for Harbor Park improvements
New Tides' lease calls for Harbor Park improvements

NORFOLK

The ballpark lease that couldn't get done is almost there.

And it might result in a new rooftop view for fans, among other improvements.

The Norfolk Tides will pay the city an annual rent of $225,000 for use of Harbor Park as part of a 15-year lease agreement expected to be approved today by the City Council.

The Tides also will pay the city 10 percent of all gross annual revenue exceeding $6.3 million, up to $150,000. The team, which plays in the Triple-A International League, grossed $5,741,469 in 2012.

The long-awaited agreement is retroactive to April 1, and it replaces a 20-year lease that expired after the 2012 season. The Tides played the 2013 season under what Norfolk mayor Paul Fraim called a "handshake" agreement with the city as both parties waited for lawyers to hammer out the language.

"We've known for a while we had a deal," Tides president Ken Young said Monday from his office in Tampa, Fla. "The fact is we knew this was going to get done, and I felt comfortable all along."

The new rent structure differs from that of the former lease, an agreement original to the 1993 construction of the $16 million ballpark.

The original rent was $1 million per year, increasing by $50,000 each year to $1.2 million in 2012, to cover the city's debt on the 12,067-seat venue. But the Tides got credit against the rent for items such as parking revenue and taxes generated, substantially lowering the amount.

As a result, the Tides have paid less than $200,000 in rent each year since 2004, though the city has continued to receive at least $1 million a year from the team in other forms.

The new, more straightforward deal, Young said, is typical of renewals in professional sports, and it reflects the franchise's relative stability.

"Twenty-one years ago when that lease was struck, everybody looked at it as high-risk," Young said.

Fraim said the city is pleased with the terms.

"I'm comfortable with the negotiations," he said, adding that the city had consultants deem the deal comparable to others in the International League. "We have good relationships with the Tides organization, and we've certainly had a mutually beneficial arrangement for some time now and look forward to the Tides calling Norfolk home for years to come."

According to materials created for a presentation to City Council, the stadium upgrades could include a proposed rooftop party deck and table seating on the stadium's third base side. The Tides already have replaced the playing surface, as dictated by the new lease.

A copy of the previous agreement was not immediately available. But some provisions include:

* The city will spend $3 million on major capital improvements or fan amenities in the first 10 years. The city must use its "best efforts" to spend all of that money in the first five years, but must spend at least $1.5 million in that period.

* The Tides will spend $500,000 on major capital improvements and/or fan amenities during the first 10 years of the lease, and no less than $250,000 must be spent in the first five years.

* The Tides must keep "Norfolk" in the team name, even if the name of the mascot changes.

* Either party can terminate the lease if a Major League Baseball franchise comes to Hampton Roads.

* The Tides can set parking prices, which are not to be more than 45 percent of the base price of a box seat (now $12), or more than $6.

* The city has naming rights to the stadium and will keep all revenue generated if the rights are sold - as in the previous lease, Young said.

* The city will pay all utilities and property taxes, and the Tides will have exclusive concessions and souvenir rights.

Both parties said they were glad to have the negotiations behind them. Fraim said he expects the council to approve the lease quickly.

"We knew it was going to get done," said Tides general manager Joe Gregory. "Obviously, it's great that we're going to be able to say that we're going to be in the city for a long time to come."

 

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